Mitch Landrieu's honeymoon is in full bloom. This week, a reform-minded coalition formed during the run-up to the 2010 citywide elections will give him high marks on several key fronts.
A year ago, Forward New Orleans (www.forwardneworleans.com) identified seven major areas in need of reform and pledged to hold the next mayor and City Council accountable for keeping their campaign promises. This week's report is the first by the group since Landrieu was inaugurated.
Forward New Orleans was formed by the Business Council of New Orleans and includes more than 30 civic, neighborhood and business organizations. The seven areas of concern are crime, blight, city finances, economic development, city services and infrastructure, city contracting and public education.
In most areas of concern, Landrieu gets "good" or "satisfactory" marks. In one — blight — the group gives him a rating of "pending," saying the new mayor needs more time to implement a comprehensive citywide blight program.
Crime was one of Landrieu's main focuses as a candidate, and it's the issue that has garnered the most public attention since he took office. It's also the issue to which Forward New Orleans dedicated the most attention in its report.
"We commend the administration for conducting a national search for a police chief that yielded a highly qualified candidate," the report states. "Superintendent [Ronal] Serpas is aligned in principle with our crime mandates."
The document goes on to commend Landrieu and Serpas for implementing specific strategies against violent crime, adopting performance metrics and public disclosure policies (including opening COMSTAT meetings to the public), and for seeking a lump-sum federal settlement for post-Katrina FEMA claims.
In one of its few criticisms, the group notes that arrest, charging and incarceration policies "have improved and are trending in the right direction, but require further improvement. Initial policy changes on arrests are good, with progress in targeting violent and repeat offenders. However, there are still far too many arrests of nonviolent, misdemeanor, petty offenders when tickets and summons should be issued instead of arrests."
In recent weeks, Landrieu has been prepping for a big announcement about blight, but his plan hasn't materialized yet. Forward New Orleans cuts him some slack on this issue, although it was initially dissatisfied with the administration's performance.
"Our dissatisfaction derived from the fact that we called for a strategic plan to issue within the first 60 days in office, and we have not yet observed the sort of comprehensive action plan that incorporates short and long term goals or objective benchmarks," the report states.
Apparently the group was talked out of a bad grade during a meeting with Landrieu. "After meeting with the administration, we are persuaded that it is too soon to assess achievement of the blight mandates," the group writes. "The administration has explained to us that it deemed 120 days a more appropriate time frame for preparing the strategic plan and that an announcement is coming within days."
The group noted Landrieu's recent town hall meetings, during which he asked citizens to back him up in a forthcoming effort to attack blight — even if it means tearing down homes. "We will closely monitor this issue in the near term and assess progress in our next report, if not sooner," the report says.
In other areas, Forward New Orleans gives Landrieu high marks and concludes that its confidence in local leadership is growing. "We observe integrity in the commitments of our elected officials," the report says. "We acknowledge the momentum of progress."
It's been a long time since a business or reform group could say that about a New Orleans mayor.